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Thursday, August 11

The Curious Case of Islamic State's Attack on Balochistan Bar Association

Whilst [Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif] bemoans the breach of the peace, the attack has been a boon. The BBA [Balochistan Bar Association] has been an active opponent of the government's policies against those campaigning to undo Pakistan's 1948 annexation of the nascent Baloch state less than a year after Britain granted it independence.
The August 8 suicide bombing at a hospital in Pakistan's Balochistan Province wasn't a strike at random or general targets. It was a highly complex two-part attack designed to lure senior leaders of the Balochistan Bar Association to a public site where they would be guaranteed to be packed into tight quarters during the bombing part of the attack. The bomb, loaded with shrapnel and ball bearings, was also built to kill as many of the gathered attorneys as possible.

The bomb didn't just kill attorneys; it wiped out the bar association's senior leadership -- a point that Reuters reported in half-baked fashion on August 10 with its somewhat misleading headline: "None is left": Pakistani legal community decimated by bombing. Well it wasn't the country's entire legal community just the BBA one -- although Reuters managed to get through its entire report without once mentioning the BBA or even the word Balochistan:
Pakistani lawyer Ataullah Lango had just arrived at the Civil Hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta to mourn the slain head of his provincial bar association when he heard a loud explosion and felt the pain of glass stabbing his face.
He lost some 60 colleagues in the suicide bombing that decimated the leadership of this tight-knit legal fraternity, probably for years.
"The cream of our legal fraternity has been martyred," Lango told Reuters at the house of the slain bar president.
"Our senior leaders ... are now gone." 
A splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the massacre; this was quickly followed (or accompanied) by Islamic State making a claim of responsibility. 

As Long War Journal pointed out in its report on the bombing, it's not unusual for terror organizations to make competing claims of responsibility. However, I'd say it's pretty unusual for a terrorist organization operating from an ideology to claim credit for a strike when they don't know the identity of the prime target. From LWJ's report, this seems to have been the case with Islamic State:
... “The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar takes responsibility for this attack, and pledges to continue carrying out such attacks. We will release a video report on this soon,” Ihsan said.
The Islamic State also claimed the Quetta bombing in a statement released by Amaq News Agency, which is part of its media network.
“A martyrdom bomber of the Islamic State detonates his explosive belt on a group of personnel belonging to the Ministry of Justice and the Pakistani Police in the city of Quetta,” Amaq stated. ...
Out of 74 killed at least 60 of the victims were members of the BBA. And somehow I don't think many if any members of the Ministry of Justice wanted to jam themselves in an emergency room with a mob of Balochi attorneys who were hopping mad at the central government even before the president of their bar association was shot and twice as furious after he was shot.

So while a few police most probably died in the attack, that was an awful lot of planning, and the use of a suicide bomber, just to take out a handful of them -- in a province where Islamic State has no immediate stake and where it's extremely risky to operate. How risky?

In July Balochi nationalists carried out a march in Germany, culminating in a rally on August 5 in front of Germany's Parliament, in order to bring world attention to the situation in Balochistan. Why march in a European nation? From an Indian Express August 6 report on the march and rally:
[Baloch leader Hyrbyair Marri] said that it would have been impossible to organise such a march from one city of Balochistan to another because Pakistan has turned Balochistan into a military garrison, where a native Balochistani will be stopped and searched several times before reaching from one town to another.
That's how risky. There are checkpoints and government spies everywhere in the province.

So we have a situation in which Islamic State was taking tremendous risks to blow up what may have been phantom members of the Justice Ministry and a few police officers -- a situation that suggests IS didn't know they were targeting lawyers. 

Yet there you have it: a terrorist organization that famously refrains from claiming credit for an attack if they weren't the perpetrators, preposterously insisting they carried out a high-risk attack on a target they seemed unaware of, and for no discernable strategic reason.

What could explain this curious behavior? Perhaps clues are found in this writing:

Balochistan is the invisible victim of terrorist atrocities in Quetta
By Simon Schofield
August 10, 2016 11:59 BST
International Business Times

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's 'crocodile tears' betray Pakistan's treatment of the Baloch people

On Monday in Quetta, Balochistan, a group of lawyers gathered at the Quetta Civil Hospital to protest the murder of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association (BBA), Bilal Anwar Kasi. Kasi's body, barely cold, had been taken to the hospital after he had been gunned down by an unidentified motorcyclist earlier that day.

However, one of the men was not an outraged lawyer, but a colleague of Kasi's assassin, who had a bomb [explosive vest, according to LWJ] strapped beneath his lawyer's uniform. He detonated, and the blast ripped through the entrance to the emergency wing, killing at least 74 and injuring over 100 people, to the staccato of gunfire.

Following the massacre, both Islamic State and Jamaat ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban with Isis sympathies, fell over each other to claim responsibility for the attack, just days after the United States designated Jamaat ul-Ahrar as a terrorist organisation.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing, stating: "No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces, police and the people of Balochistan".

On the surface, this would put the Government of Pakistan at odds with JuA and the other extremists, but Sharif's crocodile tears are a thin veneer indeed. Whilst he bemoans the breach of the peace, the attack has been a boon. The BBA has been an active opponent of the government's policies against those campaigning to undo Pakistan's 1948 annexation of the nascent Baloch state less than a year after Britain granted it independence.

In 2012, the BBA brought a case to Pakistan's Supreme Court to protest the government's enforced disappearances of Baloch campaigners. The court ordered security forces to end the policy and to produce the missing people. 

In 2015 the Supreme Court again demanded that joint effort be made to trace missing people and identify the scores of dead bodies being recovered in Balochistan. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja explained: "We are creating difficulties for ourselves by not addressing such an important issue [enforced disappearances]; the federal government should take the lead in missing persons' case."

The Baloch people feel invisible on the world stage.

In January the chairman of the Voice of Baloch Missing People campaign Nasrullah Baloch stated that the enforced disappearances, also referred to as a 'kill and dump' policy had accelerated in 2015, with approximately 463 disappearances and the discovery of 157 bodies. This follows the discovery of three mass graves in 2014 in Khuzdar, which the Government confirmed contained the remains of 17 people, but which Baloch campaigners say hold more than 100 mutilated bodies.

The Pakistani Government has a complicated relationship with extremist organisations. Between June 2014 and June 2016, tens of thousands of soldiers under Operation Zarb e Azb forced many of the extremist groups out of the North-Western Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the number of terror attacks in the area has dropped to its lowest point since 2008.

However, questions remain over state support for terror groups and their lack of ability or will to tackle them. Since Operation Zarb e Azb, many groups, including Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the Pakistani Taliban) and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban have established themselves in Balochistan. 

In March, Sharif's own adviser Sartaj Aziz openly admitted that the Taliban enjoyed sanctuary in Pakistan. In addition to this, government officials often deny that the Taliban and its affiliated Islamic State allies are making progress in Balochistan and instead often make the claim that India's RAW intelligence agency is involved instead.

What this boils down to is a very precarious position for the Baloch people, having lost a great number of talented people who were successfully using peaceful means to fight government heavy-handedness. Many of them feel frustrated with and alienated by the Islamabad government, which is not only denying the terror problem and failing to protect them from militant depredations, but actively pursuing what Human Rights Watch described as 'a policy of ethnic cleansing which is unacceptable and criminal'.

They are suffering economic exclusion and forced resettlement as the new China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project denies local Baloch people the jobs that the investment is providing, or even basic access to clean water, whilst their community turns into a Chinese outpost, where they are forced out of their own homes without consultation or apology. 

Most disheartening of all, the Baloch people feel invisible on the world stage, which is very apparent in the coverage of the Quetta bombing, which makes little or no mention of the wider context for the violence.  [Pundita note: An example of such coverage is the Reuters report I quoted above.]

Whilst some are resorting to violence, with groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) staging attacks on Punjabi settlers, Chinese engineers, and government officials, there are others working to peacefully achieve Baloch independence.  [Pundita note:  See 

The FBM recently held the first pro-Baloch protest in Europe, marching on foot from Dusseldorf to Berlin in an attempt to highlight their plight.

The Free Balochistan Movement (FBM) has launched its own Charter for the Liberation of Balochistan, struggling to bring values taken for granted in the West to the stricken region, including equality between men and women, separation of church and state, human rights, and a lasting commitment to peace. The FBM recently held the first pro-Baloch protest in Europe, marching on foot from Dusseldorf to Berlin in an attempt to highlight their plight.

Identification of the victims is still ongoing, but the most recent count lists the following lawyers as among the dead from the Quetta hospital attack: Sangat Jamaldni, Basheer Zheri, Qazi Basheer, Qazi Jameel, Rafiqe Langov, Naseer Langov, Ayub Raisani, Mhamood Lehri, Hafeez Mengal, Munir Mengal, Nooruddin Rakshani, Farooq Badini, Sabir Baloch, Chakar Rind, and Mohammad Ali Satakzai.

Simon Schofield is a Senior Fellow at the Human Security Centre, with research interests in human rights and terrorism, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia.

More about Balochistan in IBTimesUK


Perhaps the perpetrators, whether Islamic State or Jamaat-ur-Ahrar or the two working together, faced no risk of being detained if the attack they carried out in Balochistan was a mass murder for hire and the paymaster was the 'garrison state' itself.   

That would explain why IS seemed unaware of the identity of the primary target it struck. And if the attack was simply murder for hire that would also explain why there seemed to be no strategic advantage for IS: it's because there wasn't one, beyond making itself useful to a client with deep pockets.

Of course all that is speculative. What is not speculative is that the attack on the Balochistan Bar Association took place three days after a rally in Berlin that garnered unprecedented international attention for the plight of Balochis and very publicly pointed the finger of blame directly at Pakistan's military and civilian government leaders -- at a time when Pakistan's government is going to great lengths to present itself as an upstanding member of the 'international community.' 

To return to the Indian Express report:
... The Baloch activists’ long march kicked off from Germany’s Dusseldorf city on 16 July, 2016 after the pro-freedom Baloch leader Hyrbyair Marri had announced an international awareness campaign on 9 July, from the platform of Free Balochistan Movement. Nearly a dozen pro-liberation Baloch activists took part in the long march and walked for 20 days to reach Berlin.
The marchers held protest demonstrations and distributed leaflets in different German cities on their way. It is the first ever long march in Europe that Baloch activists have organised and the response of people has been very supportive and appreciative. People in Balochistan have also showed their support to the long march by wall-chalking in support of Free Balochistan Movement.
On Friday, outside the German parliament, participants in the demonstration strongly condemned the Pakistani state for their genocide policies and human rights violations against the Baloch people. They said that Pakistan was a terrorist state and was violating international human rights laws. They urged the UN and other international human rights organisations to take notice of Pakistan state atrocities in Balochistan.
The speakers also charged that Pakistan was involved in promoting religious extremism in the region and around the world. They held Pakistan responsible for religious terrorism in Afghanistan, Balochistan, India and in Western countries. ...
For more on the "Kill and Dump" policy see Baloch Struggle for Freedom and Pakistani State Barbarism – Part II by Faiz M Baluch; June 23, 2016, Afghan Tribune. The writing includes extensive source notes.


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